Comings and Goings is a blog written by Theology, Formation, and Evangelism Director Charles B. "Chip" Hardwick as he travels throughout the church. God is on the move out and about in the world, working to redeem all things in Jesus Christ. As we join this mission, by the power of the Spirit we see God on the move. This blog contains glimpses of how Chip finds this to be true in his comings and goings.
You can follow Chip on twitter (@chiphardwick) or find him on Facebook (Chip Hardwick).
What to do, what to do, what to do. Sometimes decisions face us when we long to hear God’s voice and align our actions with God’s will for us. Lots of times we have no idea which way to go. Discernment is a word Christians use to describe the quest to figure out what we ought to do when two options seem to both be faithful options to following Jesus. (In other words, trying to decide whether to lie to your boss about leaving early the day before a three day weekend is not discernment…not that anyone would be thinking about that today as Memorial Day weekend barrels toward us!)
Last week I was invited to speak at New Castle Presbytery in Wilmington, Delaware, about discernment in groups. They have begun working together to determine the future direction of the presbytery, and many faithful choices stand before them. I spoke with them about not falling prey to what I call the decently-and-in-order disorder of modest plans, and about how to listen to each other balancing both obedience to Jesus and his guidance through each other, and also critical questions which help to sharpen the conversation and decision-making process.
I also had a chance to relate several questions and thoughts that come from Ignatius of Loyola, a Spanish saint of the 16th century who wrestled with the question of faithful discernment. I’ve been thinking a lot about these questions this past week, and since the Spirit has kept them on my mind, I thought I’d post them in case they’re helpful for you. Ignatius discusses three modes of discernment, as related in Discerning the Will of God: An Ignatian Guide to Christian Decision Making by Timothy M. Gallagher, OMV (The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2015).
I think about the first mode as “sometimes you just know,” though Ignatius called it “clarity beyond doubting.” At times God’s desire for us is so strong that there’s no doubt in our minds. As Gallagher says, “If God chooses to give this gift of clarity, our part is to accept and act upon it.”
The second mode might be summarized as “what does your heart tell you.” Ignatius says that the “attractions of the heart” can be another way to figure out what to do. Does the decision bring us consolations (spiritual joy, love, hope, or tears) or desolations (sadness, lack of confidence, lack of love, or spiritual dryness)? Decisions that elicit the former are to be trusted but the latter may not be the best ones for us.
The third mode, in very technical theological language, is “put on your thinking cap.” Ignatius says that when a “preponderance of reason” leads you one way, you can trust that path. He suggests questions such as the following to help us determine the best decision:
It is striking to me that Ignatius never points us back to scripture. Perhaps he takes for granted in his 16th century context what we cannot assume today, that people’s lives are soaked in the Bible and that it is therefore unnecessary to specifically encourage them to look there. A modern guide to discernment would certainly need to include a direction to dig into the scriptures.
And yet, what Ignatius left us remains very helpful. I pray that when a tough choice comes your way, you’ll think about these modes of discernment and choose a faithful way.
Today many Presbyterian Mission Agency employees took part in a Sabbatical morning, where we paused to connect with Christ as we begin 2016. The morning’s activities included an inspiring worship service and then the chance to participate in a number of activities and spiritual disciplines. One of the activities encouraged us to write our own Psalm. I wrote the following psalm for guidance, in a style sometimes used in the book of Psalms. Each line of the psalm begins with the sequential letters of the alphabet.
May God use it to grant you guidance.
“God’s Not Fixing This,” the headline blared.
The article responded to the mass shooting earlier this week in San Bernardino, and called out politicians who were asking for and offering prayers for the victims for not doing more to end the violence.
But, the NY Daily News is wrong about God not fixing this. Dead wrong. I-stake-my-faith-on-it wrong. It’s-Advent-After-All wrong.
I often call Psalm 136 “God’s Greatest Hits.” The psalmist begins at creation and recites all the ways that God has blessed Israel, moving through the Exodus, the wilderness wanderings, and the move into the Promised Land. The heartbeat of the psalm is the response, coming after each and every line, “for his steadfast love endures forever.” The first three verses establish the pattern that goes on to the end:
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
For his steadfast love endures forever.
O give thanks to the God of gods,
For his steadfast love endures forever.
O give thanks to the Lord of lords,
For his steadfast love endures forever. (Psalm 136:1-3, NRSV)
I gave a presentation to a group who have been spending six weeks covering issues of sexual integrity, in particular in respect to the LGBT community. They invited me to talk about gay marriage and ordination in the Presbyterian Church (USA). It gave me a chance to revisit an important paper that two of my colleagues, Charles Wiley and Barry Ensign-George, wrote after the denomination changed its standards on marriage from “a man and a woman” to “a couple, traditionally a man and a woman.” People often think about the PC(USA) as an affirming denomination in terms of LBGT issues. But our position is actually more complicated than that.